Idaho budget writers will spend Friday morning listening to constituents. The Idaho Statesman reports it’s just the second public hearing of its kind in 92 years.
In 2011, Joint Finance Appropriations Committee Co-Chairs Rep. Maxine Bell (R-Jerome) and Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) decided to open Idaho’s budgeting process to the public. Cameron says the idea was modeled after similar listening sessions in Utah. “We’ve always wanted to involve public participation in the legislating process,” says Cameron. “But the way the process is set up, it doesn’t adequately allow the public to come testify on the budget bill because it’s never drafted until the end [of the session].”
During the 2011 public budget hearing, more than 1,000 Idahoans filled the Capitol to testify. That was the year lawmakers ended up cutting millions of dollars from the Health and Welfare Department and K-12 public education budgets. Sen. Cameron says that hearing did influence the way lawmakers ended up cutting. “The Health and Welfare bill that came forward initially cut a lot more than what ended up happened at the end, that was due in part to the public testimony,” Cameron says.
Cameron hopes the newly formed tradition will continue. He thinks its important for lawmakers to hear directly from the people their decisions are impacting. It’s a process Sen. Cameron admits can be painful at times, but worthwhile. “I’ll never forget some of the testimony given,” Cameron says. “Mentally challenged folks and fathers and mothers telling stories about their child and the services the state is providing and how a reduction in those services will impact their child. Some of those stories and faces are still very fresh in my mind.”
Friday’s public hearing before JFAC is from 8:00 am to 10:30 am in the Capitol Auditorium (WW02). Doors open at 7:00. The committee is limiting testimony to three minutes per person. Lawmakers encourage anyone who wants to testify to also bring a written copy of their remarks. If you’re unable to attend or the hearing ends before you’re able to speak, you can email your testimony to lawmakers at for JFACtestimony@lso.idaho.gov.
You can find more information here.